Angkor Wat is probably the most famous and well visited of all the temples in Cambodia. At dawn and dusk every day visitors throng there to witness the wonderful play of light on the temple as the sun rises or sets. The powerful atmospheric feeling you get when you arrive in the pre-dawn is indescribable and worth the effort of the early morning rise and journey to the temple. The architecture of this Khmer temple is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods in Hindu mythology. Within a moat and an outer 3.6km long wall are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs and for the numerous devatas (guardian spirits) adorning its walls.
The modern name, Angkor Wat, in use by the 16th century, means "City Temple": Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (capital), while wat is the Khmer word for temple. Prior to this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of its founder, Suryavarman II.
Built in the 12th century in the reign of King Suryavarman II, this was the residence of Vishnu, the divine palace in which the King himself was to reside after death. The construction is thought to have taken some thirty years of labor.